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Ambassadors To The Court Of Theodore Roosevelt
Personal friendships were important when T.R. was President. Ultimately, they had great effect on America’s foreign policies.
February 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 2
Then the German government released the text of a secret document, signed by Ambassador Holleben, appearing to prove that Lord Pauncefote, the British ambassador, had taken the initiative in proposing joint action by the powers in 1898. Washington was shocked by this attack upon the highly respected dean of the diplomatic corps. Both the President and the Secretary sympathized with Lord Pauncefote, whose essential friendship for the United States they believed to be beyond question. Much of the blame for the episode was laid at the door of Ambassador Holleben.
The Pauncefote controversy developed unusual heat because it coincided with a bold German campaign to win American friendship. In January, 1902, the Kaiser invited Alice Roosevelt, the President’s seventeen-year-old daughter, to christen a new yacht being built for the German ruler in an American shipyard. When this invitation was accepted, William II announced that his brother, Prince Henry of Prussia, would go to the United States for the ceremonies. From the American public, Prince Henry received a hearty welcome. The German-Americans turned out en masse out of affection for the fatherland; the Irish-Americans noisily joined in the celebrations to annoy the English; thousands of unhyphenated Americans lined the streets, lull of democratic’ curiosity to catch a glimpse of visiting royalty. Even Roosevelt was won over. To Joseph H. Choate, United States ambassador to Britain, the President wrote: “The Prince, by the way, is a thoroughly good fellow. He is evidently very friendly with England and spoke strongly against those who misunderstood the English attitude and experiences in the Transvaal.”
In the midst of the contest among European countries to win favor at Washington, England lost one of her best assets with the death of Lord Pauncefote in May, 1902. The veteran ambassador had enjoyed unique prestige. James Bryce asserted that there never had been a British representative abroad who so completely won the confidence and respect of the people to whom he was accredited. The unfortunate Holleben, blamed for so many things during these months, was condemned for having hastened Pauncefote’s death by his assertions about the British diplomat’s conduct during the Spanish-American War.
In choosing a new ambassador, the British government made a shrewd bid for Roosevelt’s favor. Spring Rice did not have sufficient seniority in the diplomatic service to be ready for this important post, but the appointment went to another good friend of the President, Sir Michael Herbert. “Mungo” Herbert had been secretary of the British legation in 1889 when Roosevelt went to Washington as Civil Service commissioner. Roosevelt had initiated “Mungo” into the mysteries of baseball and the two attended games together so regularly that it was a matter of comment when they missed one. “It is not recalled,” said the New York Tribune , “that ever before has so intimate a personal friendship existed between a President and a foreign diplomat as that between President Roosevelt and Ambassador Herbert.”
Holleben, the Kaiser’s representative, lasted only six months after Herbert’s appointment. Although Roosevelt professed to like and trust the Ambassador, he lost no opportunity to let the Kaiser know that Sternberg was his favorite German. During Prince Henry’s visit the President hat! expressed his wish that Sternberg could be stationed in Washington. The Prince’s response had been polite, but noncommittal.
In November, Sternberg and his wile stopped oil in the United States on a trip back to Germany from India. They spent several days at the White House, and the President talked with characteristic frankness about German-American relations. Particularly on Roosevelt’s mind was the projected Anglo-German-Italian blockade of Venezuela. This program of coercion, designed to compel a delinquent Latin-American state to pay its obligations to foreign bondholders, had received the President’s advance approval but nevertheless aroused serious misgivings. By mid-December, Sternberg was in Berlin, relaying to a curious Foreign Office what his American friend had said to him.
While Sternberg was impressing Berlin officialdom with his intimate knowledge of the President’s ideas, Ambassador Holleben was in America, an unhappy witness to a resurgence of anti-German feeling. Although England and Italy were also involved in the coercion of Venezuela, American displeasure centered largely on Germany.
The Venezuelan crisis eased after December 18, when the European governments agreed in principle that the debt issue should be submitted to arbitration. But Holleben’s troubles did not cease. On January 9, 1903, reports of his recall again appeared in the newspapers, and this time the stories were true. Pierre de Margerie, the French chargé d’affaires, confided the story to his government. On January 5, he said, Holleben had given a diplomatic dinner and had appeared to be in excellent health. The next day it was announced that the Ambassador was suffering from an attack of grippe. From the sixth to the eighth he saw no one, and on the eighth he left Washington in great secrecy without saying good-bye either to the President or to the Secretary of State.